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Monday, June 21, 2010

People, by Peter Spier

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When Peter Spier wrote and illustrated People in 1980, there were over 4 billion people in the world. Now, thirty years later, there are more than six and a half billion people.




This is one of many illustrated books given to Lesley and Peter by my mom. I have a stash of them, extravagantly different-sized and worn, in the guest room book case, waiting for Lesley&Brian-children and Peter&?-children one of these days. I try so hard to be patient. At Christmas I should post from Peter Spier's book Christmas, one of our favorite items to unwrap from the Christmas tubs. It's nothing but an illustrated account of one family's Christmas experience, before, during and after. We also have Rain.

Peter Spier was born in Amsterdam, and later moved to the U.S. He is a prolific illustrator and award winner. He won the Caldecott for Noah's Ark two years before this book. For People, Spier won the Christopher award, for "affirming the highest values of the human spirit." Peter's father, Jo Spier was also an illustrator, and a Jew. Peter was interned at Villa Bouchina near Amsterdam during WWII, a holding place for Jews, and then was moved to the concentration camp Theresienstadt, also known as Terezin. Is there anything more beautiful than someone emerging from an experience like that and birthing creations like this? To still see beauty in people of all types. To be this open.

 This inscription is on the page opposite the title page.

Here are a few pages from People.








"Not nearly all of the world's people can read and
write, yet there are almost one hundred different
ways of doing it."

"But imagine how dreadfully dull this world of
ours would be if everybody would look, think, eat, 
dress, and act the same!"

"Now, isn't it wonderful that each and every one
of us is unlike any other?"

In 1980, it had been 35 years since the end of WWII, which exposed people directly and indirectly to other parts of the world. Now, thirty years since 1980, we see other places and people (some just down the road) beyond what we can hold, let alone absorb or understand.

I agree with what Menander said in the inscription. Knowing other people, from other parts of the world, and other walks of life, was a privilege I had in my home from when I was small. We had wards of the court live with us, kids who did not have safe homes of their own. Some of them brought danger to me, and loss. Into our home my parents also invited international students from China, Thailand, Korea and India to live with us or visit regularly, and we went to their houses too. I remember the overwhelming smell of curry in one tiny university apartment. Now, since I began blogging at the start of 2006, I have found friends in places that I knew little of, and as a result I know them, and myself better.

I just began reading our One Book, One Community book, Zeitoun, about a Syrian man who moved to the U.S., started a family, and lived through Katrina. Since our incoming first year students are expected to read the book, I figure it's time I read one with them this summer. One value for me reading it is that with my laptop open, I look at maps of Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Egypt where Zeitoun's family is from, as well as New Orelans, the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi, wiki histories and find out a little more than I knew - about other people in the world, including my own country. You would not believe how much I don't know.

Do you think we've achieved greater acceptance of people unlike ourselves since Peter Spier's book?

Check out how Sy Safransky saved the 4th of July.
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55 comments:

Judy said...

Yes.... and no...
PS: love the art in this book.

dutchbaby said...

Oh, how I remember reading this book with my children and then watching them read it on their own, on the floor, lying on their bellies, because the book was slightly too big to hold. I did not know that Spier was interned at a concentration camp.

I have two boxes of children's books, in storage, also waiting for the grand children. I have longer to wait than you, I'm guessing.

I just gave Zeitoun as a gift to my husband's cousin in New Orleans. We must be synch-ro-ni-zing.

In answer to your question, I'm hopeful.

Anet said...

I love this book!
What a treasure for the future children in your life! I've saved many of our favorites too.

May our grandchildren be the generation that will finally accept people who are different from themselves without a second thought. (I don't think we're there just yet.)

It really would be a dreadful world if we were all the same!

Sandy said...

One of my favorite past times to do on the internet is search for illustrators. I never tire of that and this book looks so interesting. I have never seen it before.

For me, I've seen it around me, friends of my kids, etc. more tolerance for those different from them. I've always had it and find people so interesting and I'm always curious to hear more about them, their culture, etc. I also spend lots of time "googling" different cultures, finding blogs to read.

Great post and love that book!

Gwei Mui said...

I have to agree with with Judy, yes and no. Even in my lifetime I have seen, felt and experienced the ebb and flow of changing perceptions and attitudes toward people of differing ethnic backgrounds. I came a cross this book about seventeen years ago at a Library sale. I bought it for my daughter. She still has it to this day. It is one of a handul of children's books she refuses to pass on.

California Girl said...

I love the Change the World rules below. I haven't noticed them before. Nice!

Deslilas said...

Tolerance is one of our main fights.

VioletSky said...

I have not seen this book before - I love it.

I think we have come a long way in the past 30 years. Just think how All in the Family could never even be considered now, yet how we laughed then. But then you hear about the ethnic strifes in so many other countries, and your heart breaks a little.

Lorenzo said...

Like VioletSky, I, too, have never seen this book and am enchanted by your post on Spier's warm celebration and fecund embrace of diversity. Often we are told we must teach tolerance, and surely we must, but this goes beyond 'tolerating' those who are different than oneself and speaks to the need to seek out those differences. The Menander quote is so fitting in this sense. Blogging is a new and exciting avenue for such reaching out to each other.

I also like the photo of the book cover, somewhat tattered by years and years of fingers caressing its abiding and deeply humane message.

Jeanie said...

I thought I posted my comment -- bet I skipped out before the verification word. Thanks for introducing me to this book. I would like to think we are more tolerant, aware, accepting of others now than when originally published. Sometimes I listen to the news and I'm not so sure.

Zeitoum is on my list, too.

Marie-Noyale said...

Peter Spier's Christmas book is the first book we take out every year early December
It is a Favorite in our home!

Ruth said...

Judy, split in two? :)

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, I did not know about Spier in a concentration camp until I wrote this post and just did a little reading at wiki. I don't know much else about him, like if he had his own children.

I love that you read this book to your kids, and that they lay on the floor with it too.

I do hope I am ahead of you on the grandkids. :)

Ruth said...

Anet, I've heard Don talk about some beautifully open stories from his classroom, how the kids don't think of their classmates in racial terms. On the other hand, it's totally important to recognize the differences between cultures and explore heritage, as you do with your family and your Native American traditions. Yay Pow Wow!!

Ruth said...

Sandy, I've noticed that most blog visitors are extremely interested to see how people live, wherever they are. The more details we can share of what our neighborhoods, food, routines, etc., are like, the better. It's great to find out that through these differences we are so very alike, humanly.

Ruth said...

Gwei Mui, I've noticed that when a person who has been closed to a certain "type" gets to know a person in said type, they tend to lose their biases. I agree that we still see plenty of intolerance, and it's getting extreme play in the Arizona racial profiling law, I mean, Immigration Law.

Ruth said...

California Girl, I'm glad you noticed the 5 agreements. I have read one Ruiz book: Beyond Fear. I find his perspective straightforward and cleansing.

Ruth said...

Daniel, I know that in Europe you are feeling it maybe even more intensely than here. It keeps building, and sometimes I am pretty worried about where it will end. I hope the embracers will win the culture wars, and not the excluders.

Ruth said...

Violetski, you know, sometimes I really despise all the PC stuff. We are getting way too homogenized. Embracing differences means we're different, not the same. But showing Archie Bunker for his bold-faced bigotry is good, I think.

Oh what is happening in Kyrgyzstan now is terrible.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, your good comment reminded me of two things.

One is a professional development I attended for academic advisers, which got to the conclusion that a student can tell if you are just tolerating them, or embracing who they are. Of course!

Two is what you said about the worn book jacket, that reminds me of the Wabi-sabi concept of imperfect beauty, that things are in transition. A well loved book has a beautiful evolution. Well, but Don just said as I asked him about that logic, that it is rather the person who reads it and wears it out who evolves.

(See how it is?)

Ruth said...

Jeanie, I didn't read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I wonder if you did? No doubt Eggers will be visiting campus in the fall. Maybe we should go, together?

Ruth said...

Hi and welcome, Marie-Noyale! I just love meeting you through Peter Spier's Christmas. And we are daily photo cousins. I used to do EAST LANSING DAILY PHOTO. Your photos of Larchmont are Gor Geous.

Gary said...

I don't know this book but thanks for bringing it to my attention. It goes nicely with my post on skin color which you commented on. I will have to check it out further. thanks.

Gary said...

btw, I love the five agreements you have posted on the bottom of your blog.

gemma said...

We have several copies of People in our school library.It's awesome.

ds said...

Such a beautiful book. Not just because of its illustrations or its words (and the message behind them), but because it has been so well loved. Those are the best books, they will be remembered. Thank you for sharing People, Mr. Spiers, Mr. Safransky, Menander, and as always, yourself. Once again, you send me back to the chair to ponder. This is a good thing.

rauf said...

Ruth, all is not well in animal kingdom too, they fight, they are intolerant and i can't blame humans alone. But the animals survive together in a limited space given to them by us people. We humans are so kind to them!

Humans are largely unpredictable. i will not say Hi to a crocodile, i know what it will do to me. So i stay away. Can't say the same about humans.

It is easy to survive in a society. Tolerance is good for business. Tolerance is money. Tolerance is comfort. There have been many attempts to control the society by creating Gods, religions, myths. But they all failed and they will fail in future as well. Unity in diversity makes sense, but history shows that we have no such sense.

Never heard of this book Ruth. Looks beautiful

Deborah said...

Ruth, I had completely forgotten about his books, and only hope that Christmas (which I'm sure we had) was kept as one of the very special books my kids loved, never to be given away. I'll have to check when I get home.
Lovely to make his acquaintance again - thank you!

Ginnie said...

I had NO CLUE he was from Amsterdam, Ruth. MY, how life circles us around! There are few authors more brilliant than Peter Spier, in my humble opinion. I love what he has done. (I just noticed he's a Gemini. No wonder!) Thanks for doing an entire post on him and on this book in particular. It's an interesting question you pose at the end, of course. Yes and No. The more we know, the less we know. The more we know, the less we learn from our mistakes. History keeps repeating itsaelf and we keep saying "We never learn!" So sad.

Susan said...

Oh, what a wonderful, inspiring, encouraging book! I will be haunting Alibris until I find a copy for the grandchildren. What better way to teach tolerance and diversity and love for humankind? I had never heard of this author...thank you very much, Ruthie, for bringing this to us. I love it.

Susan said...

Just found and ordered People and Noah's Ark on Alibris.com. Love that site. I actually paid more for shipping than I did for the books. Oh well.

Oliag said...

To answer your question first, I would have to say that I know I do...but I'm afraid that what I see in the news proves that in general people have not changed...One would think the internet would make people closer...but sometimes it seems to help some grow apart...

You will be such a wonderful grandmother Ruth!...and saving this well-worn, well-loved copy of "People" is not the only reason but is one of many...My grandchildren do enjoy all the books I saved for them and it is very rewarding...I wish I wrote inscriptions in more of the books to tell the story of why it was given.

I loved Dave Egger's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius...Zeitoun sounds like a book I would love too...and I always look up maps of places I am reading about:) glad to see I am not the only one..
xo

willow said...

I remember reading this wonderful book with my children. I don't have a copy, so it must have been from the library. Now I must have a copy for my own little library. Excellent post.

cathyswatercolors said...

Hi Ruth, What a delightful book. I remember it,but we don't own a copy. Like you I have saved my kids books.Some of them are in my classroom and when I open them to read to the kids I sometimes remark, this book is 27 years old. I save the more precious book at home.
As far as grandbabies go, many of my friends are new grandparents and they are so happy. For me, because of the nature of my classroom and what i have witnessed over the years, i am more cautious in my desire.

peace my friend. Is Don dancing the end of the school year dance?

Bella Rum said...

Ha! Wonderful post, Ruth!! I'm buying this book for my grandchildren immediately.

I fished out a stack of my son's childhood books when they were here for Christmas and sent them home with them. There's nothing like introducing a new generation to great books.

♥ Kathy said...

I see a lot of people that refuse to have anything to do with other people just because of where they are from or the color of their skin. It just doesn't make sense to me. I've always believed that people are people and our differences should make us closer.

Ruth said...

Hi, and welcome, Gary. Yes, our posts were synchronicitous, as Lorenzo noticed, and he sent me over to you. I love that your post led me to name the color of my skin: garlic humus.

Well I am also glad you like the 5 agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I think they do rather simplify things.

Thank you, Gary, I hope you'll come by again.

Ruth said...

Gemma, that's great, I hope they are worn too.

Ruth said...

Hi, DS. I appreciate you taking time here. You are very important to me.

Ruth said...

rauf, I don't think anyone as taught me more than you about people I know nothing of, just through photographs and a few words. The Gujratis with their many beautiful earrings, their turbans, and their regal cows standing next to them. The Untouchables in villages where you take off your shoes at their door and eat in their vessels, honoring them. Meeting you here a little over four years ago now is one of the greatest people gifts of my life.

Ruth said...

Hi, Deborah, I am enjoying reading that several of my friends here have had his books. I would like to draw and paint illustrations like Peter Spier.

Ruth said...

Boots, did Mom give your kids this book too?

I'm not an anthropologist or sociologist, but I'm thinking it takes a long time for people to evolve. Our instincts are to protect ourselves, I guess. Seeing someone as other is a threat.

Ruth said...

That's wonderful, Susie! I can picture Gaige, Nathan, Kaitlyn, Matthew and what's the other girl's name -- reading this on the floor. It's fun because you see something new on those pages every time you open it. Rich stuff.

Why can't I think of her name?

Ruth said...

Oliag, you know the history books will show amazing strides in civil rights in the 20th century. But those articles won't tell the whole story, of how many people resisted those changes. Maybe it is encouraging that Society has evolved in certain ways, even if not all people are in sync, or diabolically extreme.

When I opened People before writing this post, and I took photos, I hoped hoped hoped there would be an inscription from my mom, as there is in many books from her. I was disappointed.

Good to know you loved Eggers' other book. He's so young!

Ruth said...

That's cool, Willow. Amazon and Alibris are going to wonder, Why the suddenly growth in popularity of this book?

Ruth said...

You know, Cathy, I read your comment, and paused. It's funny how hopeful people are beforehand, but caution is certainly warranted.

Don is almost doing his dance, but he has an all day class this week. Friday, he'll be jitterbugging.

Ruth said...

Bella, like books, we offered the kids their Christmas ornaments being collected since they were born. But they wanted them to stay here with us. I guess they'll start their own family collections.

Susan said...

Lauren...she's the actress one with the blonde hair. Loves to turn over Christmas trees and cut her own hair. :-)

Grandmother said...

Our grandchildren are now enjoying the favorites we saved from our daughter's collection. It's rich having new little ones fall in love with these treasures. Thanks for a great post- really liked the photos.

Grandmother said...

p.s. My daughter went to Trinidad (from CA) and married a Trini. Their children are bi-racial. In answer to your final question. Hmmm, maybe it was the book!

Ruth said...

♥ Kathy, when we lived in Istanbul, there was a saying that everyone fights with their brother. Until a neighbor picks on him, then you join your brother fighting his neighbor. Until someone in another village picks a fight on your brother's neighbor, then you help your brother's neighbor fight the other village. Etc.

Ruth said...

Susie, Lauren! Thank you. :)

Ruth said...

Grandmother, absolutely, there is a direct connection between how we shape our kids with books and talk about ideas and the major life decisions they make. How wonderful.

Vagabonde said...

I do not know Peter Spier but will look for this book for my grandchildren. Thanks for showing it.

Terresa said...

I think we had this book at one of the libraries I worked at. It is a gem.

I, too, fall into the parameters of this sentence: "You would not believe how much I don't know." {I try & learn something new every single day. My kids are good at being teachers, too...}